Public Release: 

Knowledge of an ecological sort

Exploring "traditional ecological knowledge" and "western ecological science"

Ecological Society of America

Farmers know their land, know the crevices and hills, the streams, the soil; they have an understanding that comes from experience. Scientists know the land they study as well. Both groups may know how healthy the soil is or which trees are soon to fall, although they would use different terminology to describe the characteristics.

Within indigenous communities, the terminology and knowledge of land has been shared for generations, encompassed by cultural practices and ideals. This type of knowledge, typically referred to as "traditional ecological knowledge" or TEK for short, has garnered the attention of "mainstream" scientific circles. During the joint meeting of the Ecological Society of America and the Society for Ecological Restoration, in Tucson, Arizona, several symposia and other sessions will examine and contrast TEK with ecological science.

SYMPOSIUM: Relationship, Community, and Intergenerational Innovation: Traditional Ecological Knowledge for Ecosystem Restoration.
Leo Rich Theatre: 1 pm - 4:45 pm, Wednesday, 7 August 2002.

Although from all regions of the globe, the projects in this symposium could easily describe work accomplished by communities just down the road. Addressing TEK's role in ecological science, the presenters will explore the ethics and responsibilities of working within different cultures.

Alan Watson and Brian Gaspell of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute in Montana, along with Lilian Alessa of the University of Alaska Wildlands Center, will explore the relationship between TEK, cultures, and wilderness management in the Circumpolar North. Studying traditional cultural needs, the changing demands for energy and land use, and current management practices of the US, Canada, Finland and Russia, the team will discuss the contentious challenges posed in wilderness management around the North Pole.

Further south, a community came together to restore an ailing river ecosystem. Through the creation of "living fences" - propagated fencerows of willow and cottonwood - Don Beto, the community of San Lazaro, and middle school students worked to restore the Santa Cruz River. Joaquin Murrieta-Saldivar of the Sonoran Institute will speak about the group's efforts to restore this ecosystem using cultural and trans-generational learning and participation.

Other presentation topics will address; ethics, attitudes, and guidelines for gathering TEK, restoration of ecological and cultural practices, research techniques, and education as well as how teams have been working together to blend the information into effective ecosystem restoration. First Nations of Canada, Musqueam, Paiute, Mohawk, Ojibwe, Cherokee, O'odham, Hawaiian, Samish, Tarahumara, and traditional ejidos will be represented in the studies.

SYMPOSIUM: Can Human Cultural Activities be Included in Reference Ecosystems? Views from Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Western Ecological Science.
Maricopa Meeting Room: 9 am - 11:30 am Thursday, 8 August 2002.

As ecologists, resource managers, conservationists and others work to restore and study impacts on ecosystems, they must determine "normal," "healthy," or "original" environments. Reference ecosystems serve as the standard by which researchers and others working on restoration projects can measure their work. This symposium will feature perspectives on TEK and western ecological science in determining "natural" ecosystems.

When researchers work to restore environments, they often compile data from previous studies and conduct other research to determine, scientifically, what organisms lived in the region, how the landscape looked, nutrient levels, and so on. Scientists have largely ignored the information available in the form of TEK, or used it without proper credit to the source. Dennis Martinez of the Indigenous Peoples' Restoration Network of the Society for Ecological Restoration will address the ambiguity of the English word "natural" from an indigenous cultural perspective. In a talk entitled "What is Natural? Integrating Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Western Ecological Science in Restoration" Martinez will argue that TEK and "Western Ecological Science" should be treated equally when reconstructing reference ecosystems.

Offering another viewpoint in "Value and limits of understanding early human cultural impacts in the Willamette Valley landscape," Mark Wilson of Oregon State University will discuss the climatic differences in ecosystems of the past and present in relation to sustainable land management, and the possible dangers to threatened and endangered species using early cultural practices.

Other speakers will discuss the role of oral history in determining sustainable ecosystems, the impact of cultural activities on landscapes, and the function of TEK on managing natural resources. Groups represented will include O'odham, Yoruk, Seneca, Turtle Mountain Ojibway, Chicano and Mexican.

ORAL SESSION #50: Traditional Ecological Knowledge.
Greenlee Meeting Room: 8 am -11:30 am Wednesday, 7 August 2002.

Also addressing issues related to TEK will be a session of oral presentations. Topics range from education to restoration. Opening the session, Ann Garibaldi and Brenda Beckwith of the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada will discuss a new manner for understanding, gathering and protecting TEK: "cultural refugia." Further presentations will discuss ways to better integrate and respect TEK and its sources into research practices, explore educational resources, and describe techniques and studies using TEK.

For more information on these presentations, or to find out more about the Ecological Society of America's 87th Annual Meeting, please visit our website Held at the Tucson Convention Center August 5-9, 2002, these sessions are part of a gathering of over 3,500 scientists and conservationists. The theme of the meeting, "A Convocation: Understanding and Restoring Ecosystems," brings together two societies dedicated to ecology.

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is a scientific, non-profit, 7,800-member organization founded in 1915. Through ESA reports, journals, membership research, and expert testimony to Congress, ESA seeks to promote the responsible application of ecological data and principles to the solution of environmental problems. ESA publishes three scientific, peer-reviewed journals: Ecology, Ecological Applications, and Ecological Monographs. Information about the Society and its activities is published in the Society's quarterly newsletter, ESA NewSource, and in the quarterly Bulletin. More information can be found on the ESA website:

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.